Monday, February 02, 2009

Would You Push it a Little to the Left?

If you took a steam locomotive, the kind that Butch Cassidy and Sundance or Marty McFly are perennially clambering about without scalding their palms to the consistency of poached eggs from last Easter's family breakfast, painted it yellow and inflated it like a balloon, then cropped the cab roof off you'd have created my favorite childhood amusement park ride.

And in that you may figure out where I grew up, or how simple a child I was, or you may reflect on a warm childhood reminiscence of your own involving white glue, kibble and a dog.

Get your own blog in that case. I'm here to examine the first moment I realized just how tightly wound a little kid I was.

The Favorite Ride was a little train, engine really, that ran on a concrete pathway, guided by a metal rail. It was about as passive as you could get short of the "Fall into a Bowl of Marshmallows" but when you realize that I tended to blow chunks out the car window when the old man took a left across more than one lane of traffic you understand why the thing appealed to me.

Nothing happened on it that approached you faster than the speed of mold. It was entirely predictable so you could relax because every ride was just like the last one: boring.

I liked boring, boring was good. You sit yourself down in this cartoon train, they push you onto the main track and the thing proceeds along an overpass, underpass, pedestrian crossing and, oh, a plaster cow rolls out to moo at you, again at the speed of natural selection. There are things to do along the way. You get to push a lever that makes an asthmatic whistle go "hneeewfthh" and you get to ring a bell. At all the right places.

This is where the trouble started. Once I got on the ride, for the first time, I quickly decided and set into my personal rule book, just how this ride was to be ridden. And that was properly, with whistles and bells at all the right moments: when you shoved off and Mom waved with that sigh of relief on her face that the next seven minutes were her's alone, at the overpass, at the underpass and at the cow, just to see if she would blink. At no other time would you ring the damn bell like an epileptic tourette victim.

This worked for a while and I was happy because I got to ride the ride alone (there were only two seats) probably because the ride was so boring nobody would waste a ticket on it. However as the park filled up, other little urchins started to line up at my favorite ride and the next thing I knew I was being sat with someone completely strange to me in pilled polyester slacks with an idiot grin and a penchant to ring the bell like Pavlov in a meat suit.

I quickly found a new favorite ride.

It was just across the way and the same concept as the train on a rail except this was the antique car on a rail. You got four seats, one with a steering wheel and the thing trundled along by the goddam ringing train tracks at the speed of Jell-o setting. What a find. It was boring too so I usually sat alone and got to steer. The steering wheel was little more than a circle of metal on a nail but I took it as seriously as I took everything else which is why my eye involuntarily twitched as early as fifth grade.

If the car went into a turn, you'd turn the wheel as carefully as the old man turned it; slow and steady returning to what you thought was top dead center when you hit the straights.

Paradise lost. The ride go popular and the next thing you knew you had to give up the driver's seat control to some pill-trousered so and so who's hand was not yet cramped from ringing the freaking bell and wouldn't you know it, he thought steering meant spinning the wheel at maximum velocity like a roulette wheel??

Life as I knew it was over.

Best I could do was fake whooping cough to score the occasional car alone. But the next spring the park caught up to me. Apparently enough grommets had complained about not being able to "steer" that the park had given in and mounted, are you ready for this, four steering wheels in each car so that everbody "steered." And I got to share space with a couple of characters who spun madly in what was clearly the back passenger seat.

This was not going to last.

I left, thumbed my nose at the thing and buried my face in cotton candy.

Its not often that you realize at the age of nine just how damn anal-retentive you are (it IS hyphenated). That gets kind of depressing, you realize that you're going to be haunted for most of your life by mad bell ringers and steering wheel spinners. Your perfectly orderly universe will be under constant assault. And there's no relief, no solace, they will always be at you.

Of course, it throws them for a loop when you lean back, smile, look them straight in the eye after their hourlong presentation on brand extensions and go:

Bunny on.

(heh heh heh)

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